Review: Room by Emma Donoghue

Friday, 3 June 2011
You know you've read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend.  —Paul Sweeney

I don't know anything about Paul Sweeney, the author of the quotation above. I have no reason to believe that he's still alive, and I would bet money that he's never read Room, Emma Donoghue's raved-about bestseller. Yet his quotation accurately describes what I am feeling right now, at this very second, having just shut the book for the last time.

For seven days, Jack, Donoghue's five-year-old narrator has plagued my mind. Inventive and curious, he is like most boys his age. He loves Dora the Explorer. He loves building things from nothing, using toilet paper rolls and other trash. And he loves reading books and hearing stories over and over again. But Jack is unlike any other boy. Since the day he was born, he has been held captive in an 11-by-11-foot room, which he shares with another prisoner — his 26-year-old Ma. As a reader, I couldn't help but fall in love with Jack, and now that I have come to the end of his story, I will miss him.

Room has garnered praise for many reasons — Donoghue's remarkable character development, her attention to detail, her failure to break character — but mostly, it is its uniqueness that makes Room impossible to put down. Simply put, it's unlike anything I have ever read before.

Jack's Ma, who remains nameless to readers, creates an insular world for Jack, who knows nothing but his prison home, where his imagination carries him from day to day, constructing toys from egg shells and empty vitamin bottles. His only glimpse of a world outside Room comes from inside Wardrobe, where he hides when Old Nick, his captor, climbs in bed with Ma to rape her. 

After a risky escape plan succeeds and lands Jack outside the only home he ever knew, readers have the privilege of watching him adapt to his and Ma's new life, exploring the things he had only ever seen on a small rabbit-eared television inside Room, including everything from maple keys to cell phones.   

Room is, at times, gripping, raw, and incredibly angering, but Jack's innocence, curiosity, trust, and loyalty make it mostly a tender and beautiful read that I highly recommend. Falling in love with Jack and getting to watch him stumble through his new world is worth all the hype.   

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